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The BBC's David Eades
"Stopped by only a thin line of police"
 real 28k

Monday, 24 April, 2000, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Marchers praised by Commission
Apprentice Boys'  Ormeau march re-routed again
Apprentice Boys' Ormeau march re-routed again
Northern Ireland's Protestant marching season has started peacefully but the dispute over parades on Belfast's Ormeau Road remains unresolved.

The new chairman of the Northern Ireland Parades Commission praised the behaviour of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, after they abided by the decision banning their parade from the mainly nationalist lower Ormeau Road.

There was a low key security presence at the Ormeau Road parade where about 20 members of the Protestant loyal order and one marching band took part in their district parade.

About 6,000 Apprentice Boys at district parades around Northern Ireland then joined the first major demonstration of the marching season at Tobermore in County Londonderry.

New Parades Commission chairman Tony Holland
Holland: Each parade is considered in its own context
Commission chairman Tony Holland said he was impressed by "the dignity of the Apprentice Boys in the face of a decision which was obviously disappointing for them".

He added that while the stalled political process was of great concern he was optimistic that the marching issue could still be resolved.

"I believe there is still a lot of hope and I also believe that each application has to be taken in its own context. The context in the future could be quite different.

"This was one decision about one parade at this particular moment in time.

"There has been a series of dialogues which has taken place between both parties over the intervening period and it has not been as positive as I would have wished.

"The Commission also felt that the disorder that took place last year would not at this moment in time be the right thing to see again today," Mr Holland said.

The Parades Commission had said it decided to restrict the Ormeau parade so that it could not cross the Ormeau Bridge and go into the lower Ormeau area "reluctantly".

It said its decision was due in part to the "violent scenes" arising from an anti-parades protest against an August Apprentice Boys parade which was allowed to proceed onto the lower Ormeau Road.

Nationalist demonstrators were moved from the route by the security forces.

Just two police landrovers attended Monday's Ormeau march.

The marchers stopped at a small security force barricade on the Ormeau Bridge manned by a thin line of police officers to hand a letter of protest.

Call for 'accommodation'

Apprentice Boys spokesman Tommy Cheevers called on the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community residents group (LOCC) to adopt a more tolerant and accommodating position so that the annual parade could go ahead along its proposed route next year.

Apprentice Boys spokesman Tommy Cheevers
Cheevers: "We can't talk about no parades"
He added that he wanted to state for the record that the Apprentice Boys were willing to take part in further talks with the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community, but not to "negotiate apartheid" between the two communities.

"We want to ask the LOCC, do they want to share this society, or are they going to pursue over the past ten months and 18 meetings of telling me that my culture is not welcome here, whatsoever?

"I can't go into dialogue about no parades. There has to be some accommodation or we just can't move this society forward," Mr Cheevers said.

'Refusal to compromise'

LOCC spokesman John Gormley accused the Apprentice Boys of refusing to compromise.

"We're facing a situation when the Apprentice Boys are only willing to talk about their parades in the context of them going ahead, and there is no room for any compromise and no search for alternatives on their part.

"In the present context it is quite obvious there is not going to be a resolution over parades," he said.

The marching season, during which some controversial parades have raised tensions in previous years, has started this year against a backdrop of political stalemate in Northern Ireland.

The British and Irish prime ministers have held meetings with the political parties, and their officials are working to find a way to move the peace process forward.

But there is still no sign of any plan that could help to resolve the dispute between unionists and republicans over paramilitary decommissioning and sharing power in government.

The issue of when the paramilitaries should start decommissioning has dogged the parties since they signed the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998 and deadlocked the peace process since the suspension of Northern Ireland's political institutions in February.

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See also:

17 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Parade restrictions follow tension
23 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Blair holds key to peace - Sinn Fein
26 Nov 99 | Northern Ireland
Community activist wins protection
06 Aug 99 | Northern Ireland
Parades dispute flares up in Belfast
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